Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Online Interface Fail: Accidental or Intentional

This morning I was trying to purchase a couple of items from the online store. Everything was proceeding well, until I tried to complete the checkout process. Unfortunately, my browser wouldn't allow me to get to the checkout. Part of this was predictable -- I keep my browser locked down using plug-ins to block javascript, tracking cookies and cross-site scripting elements. But, try as I might to enable the page elements that would allow me to complete the transaction, I couldn't seem to find the element that was preventing me from moving to the checkout and completing the transaction. In the end, I gave up. Cart abandoned.

Every day, as we work with stuff in the online world, we apply a level of real-world experience and expectations to our online interactions. When we click on buttons, we expect them to work. When they don't work, or when things don't behave as we might expect, we believe that they are broken. In the real world, you click a button and you expect the light to come on. If not, you think that maybe the light is burnt out. But what happens when those problems that you experience are by design?

It's easy to assume that the reason something doesn't work is because it's broken or poorly designed. This morning the checkout button didn't work, but the continue shopping button did. Over the weekend we were watching some online videos and when the video switched to the ad, there were artifacts left on the screen but when you tried to clear them, the result was an ad clickthrough. In that way, the result was similar to some of those mobile ads that appeared in places that made you likely to accidentally click them.

An ad clickthrough is one example of where someone benefits from your interaction with a 'broken' interface, but the range of possibilities is broad. And the thing is, it may be happening to you without you even realizing it. So, the next time you find yourself dealing with a broken interface, ask yourself, "is there someone who benefits from this behavior?" If so, it could be by design.

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